Sexual harassment is in the news. Politicians use their positions of power to force their will on vulnerable persons. Hollywood moguls? Tales about casting couches are certainly nothing new. Are we surprised to learn that star power individuals might want to get in on the action?
The Silence Breakers deserve their recognition. The public outcry is justified — overdue. But is it enough? And are we addressing the mixed messages popular culture is broadcasting?
When I am in my car with my grandchildren, they like to listen to the radio stations popular with the young. Sometimes I have to switch it off. I don’t think I am anything close to a prude, but the sexually explicit lyrics shock me. The F-word might get bleeped but you can still hear some graphic descriptions of sex acts in the lyrics. They make it sound nasty.
Television, and not just cable and not just ads, is a whole other story. All of a sudden I am aware of how sexualized this ubiquitous media is. I found some numbers to confirm my impression.
Portrayals of sex and sexual relationships are prevalent in mainstream media. Analyses estimate that sexual content appears in approximately 85% of major motion pictures (Jamieson, More, Lee, Busse, & Romer, 2008), 82% of television programs (Fisher, Hill, Grube, & Gruber, 2004), 59% of music videos (Turner, 2011), and 37% of music lyrics (Primack, Gold, Schwarz, & Dalton, 2008).
Lots of the sexual content is implied, sly innuendo. Lots of it is found in popular sitcoms and we laugh along with the canned audience. It’s not porn, but I can’t help but think it is normalizing something of a tee-hee, wink-wink, boys will be boys, girls will be sluts mentality.
I remember as a kid (naive to be sure) thinking TV was a reflection of reality to the extent that I wondered why I was the only one in the world who did not have Donna Reed for a mom, an Anderson or a Cleaver family. Is Two and a Half Men anymore representative of reality? If my grandson watches that or similar shows will he think sexual harassment is normal and acceptable?
I don’t think TV needs to be the fairytale, sexless la-la land it may have been in the beginning, but is there no middle ground? And where are the shows depicting women and men confronting offensive behaviors, showing children and adults how to deal effectively with unwanted attention?
I don’t watch that much TV, so maybe I am wrong.